seriously, why is your mean girl mean?

| Friday, January 14, 2011

Today's Tune: All I Want Is You

Okay, slightly-embarrassing confession time: I am an unadulterated Mean Girls fan. It may not be alterna-cool-edgy of me to admit that sometimes I enjoy pop culture, BUT I DO AND I DON'T CARE IF YOU JUDGE ME FOR IT. Ahem.

Nevertheless, I have paused to think about why I enjoy the film so much. The most obvious reason is because it's funny. Really funny. So many repeatable lines. I WANT MY PINK SHIRT BACK.

Delving a little deeper, I enjoy this movie because it both pokes fun at and revels in the Mean Girl stereotype. We all know this character. She's beautiful, she's popular, she's rich, and she is an epic bitch. But this movie goes beyond just making her into the villain, and the protagonist into the poor, sweet, nerdy outcast who destroys her and Stands Up For Unpopulars Everywhere. This movie flips roles. The Mean Girl becomes the victim of cruelty, and the Nice Girl becomes the thing she's supposed to hate. Mean Girls isn't really about "the good girl" and "the mean girl." It shows us the bullies as main characters. It shows us we're all capable of nastiness, and we're all capable of getting over it.

The Mean Girl is a stock character in YA fiction. She's the character we toss into the mix to make our protagonist look better by comparison, to cause instant tension, and to give our readers someone to hate. There's rarely ever a good reason for her to act like such a raging hosebeast; she just does. She's overused. She's boring. She's flat. And she deserves better.

If we decide to use a Mean Girl in our fiction, we have to ask ourselves one question: why. Why is she mean? What is her motivation? Human beings don't exist in the black or the white. Even the biggest jerk you knew in school had more going on in the background than met the eye. And please, please, let's find a reason other than "she's mean because she's sooooooo jealous of the pretty, smart protagonist." So overdone.

This is part of fleshing out our characters. It's not enough to have a three-dimensional protagonist if the other characters only serve as props. Why is your mean girl mean? If you want to create a truly memorable character, create a bully that people can actually sympathize with. That's powerful writing.


{ Magan } at: January 14, 2011 at 6:38 AM said...

I was kind of one of those "punk rocker" kids in high school (embarassing I know)...I wore converse sneakers and went to rock shows, but I watched Mean Girls just about every day after school. IT'S ADDICTING.

And the mean girl was something I struggled with, because I wanted her to just be mean, but that's why we have crit partners...they help us discover why our mean girl is mean and then have her get punched in the face!

{ Meredith } at: January 14, 2011 at 7:49 AM said...

I don't have mean girls in my WiPs, but I'd love to read a mean girl who I really understand! And the movie is definitely one of my faves :)

{ aspiring_x } at: January 14, 2011 at 10:42 AM said...

i LOVED that movie so much!
and RIGHT ON! with this post!...
i don't have any mean girls in any of my wips- so far- but i'll remember this if i ever write one! :)

{ Old Kitty } at: January 14, 2011 at 2:03 PM said...

One of our Lindsay's finest roles!!

I do like this film - it started off as very black and white and ended with plenty shades of grey and lots of laughs along the way!!

Thank you for a very thought-provoking post into what it takes to be mean! take care

{ Lisa Potts } at: January 14, 2011 at 3:37 PM said...

Great post.

I love this movie. It's one of those can't-click-past movies. I am compelled to put down the remote and watch it again and again and again.

There is a plethora ($5 word o'the day) of mean girls in YA fiction, and you touched on some good points about how to make them real.

{ Christine } at: January 15, 2011 at 7:09 AM said...

This movie is in our DVD library. Darling Teen and I love to watch it. The role reversal and flip is the hook for me. I don't write YAs, but I do have "mean" girls in my Contemporary Romances (not all of them). The thing is even at my age I come across the "mean girls" and they are grown women who are just totally mean and manipulative. I've found mean girls in PTA functions, writing chapters, neighborhoods, office environments, and girl scout leadership.

The common thread? Insecurity. They are afraid people will discover they aren't perfect or have perfect families or .... and the list goes on. And usually they are not fully evolved. They're so vested in manipulating the environment and people around them that they forget to put any time into fixing their inner being. Thus their original reason for being insecure is never tackled. It is too painful to face. They have to project outwardly.

I try to remember that fact when I meet a new mean girl on my own life journey. I feel sorry for them.

{ Dangerous With a Pen } at: January 15, 2011 at 8:24 PM said...

I've never seen Mean Girls but completely agree with Christine because I've met them in many situations growing up and now as a teacher and a mom, I see them in just as many places. Sadly, sometimes mean moms are mean to other moms' kids. Not that I have any experience with that. Ahem.

Anyway. I have a sort of developing mean girl in my WiP, but she's not really overly mean. In fact, her insecurity becomes a larger issue than her meanness, she is a little more self-destructive than destructive to others. I think you'd end up feeling more sorry for her than annoyed at her.

{ Dangerous With a Pen } at: February 4, 2011 at 9:20 PM said...

Holy moly... so I know this post was two weeks ago, but I just read that Tina Fey wrote mean girls based on her high school. Which was my high school. (Lol, which I knew, but we weren't there at the same time, she graduated in 1988 and I graduated in 1993.) Just an interesting connection. ;) So I guess I don't need to see it - I LIVED it! :P ;)

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